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Stand-Up Guy

By Russ Smith | Posted 12/21/2005

Usually I’m fairly even-keeled upon hearing or reading something that seems outrageous, game to absorb as many views as possible. Earlier this month, for example, my 13-year-old son proclaimed during dinner at Holy Frijoles that the United States invaded Iraq for the sole purpose of controlling its oil. He didn’t actually say “blood for oil,” but the parameters were set. I asked how he reached this conclusion, from what sources, and Nick just shrugged, saying, “Dad, it’s common sense.”

I calmly suggested he back up his opinion with—perish the thought—some newspaper or magazine articles. Nick cited a recent Daily Show broadcast about the subject and looked perplexed, as if I were nuts not to understand this “common sense.” Our younger son was confused about this conflict, and after a brief synopsis of the reasons why I support the war, my wife sensibly changed the topic. She says that as Nick gets older and feistier he’ll shave years off my life, but I think it’ll be pretty interesting.

Similarly, I was taking out the trash on a recent morning and saw a neighbor who’s a lot of fun to gab with. He brought up the New York Times’ Dec. 16 article about President Bush authorizing the National Security Agency to electronically eavesdrop on U.S. citizens thought to be involved in terrorist activities and expressed his shock. I disagreed, saying that the attacks of Sept. 11 warranted extraordinary measures, but the look on his face suggested that a further analysis on my part—such as Bill Clinton completely dropping the ball after the first World Trade Center murders in 1993—wouldn’t benefit either of us. So, figuring this was a stalemate, I asked him about a recent business trip to Asia, neutral but fascinating territory that wouldn’t result in any hard feelings.

But a short entry by Emily Weinstein on the Dec. 15 Huffington Post blog really stuck in my craw. Weinstein, a young New Yorker who writes predictable screeds on Superlefty.com, made a public confession:

Last weekend I did something I haven’t done in a long time. Something I swore I’d never do again. Something I’m deeply ashamed of. I stood during the singing of the national anthem.

Weinstein explains that she first exercised her freedom of expression during the ’91 Gulf War, as a seventh-grader, refusing to recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” because she didn’t believe the United States “had ever provided liberty and justice for all.” Despite her recent lapse—at her brother’s midyear college graduation—Weinstein says she won’t stand when “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays because of her perception of its hypocrisy. She continues:

I won’t stand for the current war in Iraq, I won’t stand for the last war in Iraq. I won’t stand for all the wars before that. I won’t stand for its selectively faulty electoral process and I won’t stand for its unelected, renegade government.

I read a lot of anti-Bush rhetoric, much of it intelligent and nuanced—the New Yorker’s David Remnick and the New Republic’s Michael Crowley come to mind—but Weinstein’s declaration struck me as profoundly depressing. This isn’t because of the bumper-sticker mentality of her post—apparently she’s ashamed of the United States’ involvement in World War II, and believes that the 61 million Americans who voted for Bush over John Kerry didn’t really count—but rather her sheer lack of manners.

Maybe this affected me because one time, many years ago, I also didn’t stand during the national anthem. It was in 1978, at an Orioles-Red Sox game at Memorial Stadium, and, egged on by a feminist friend, I sat during the song. At the time, my political leanings were garden-variety, post-hippie liberal, but I wasn’t really protesting anything in particular. I’ll never forget the stares and catcalls we received, some from “America, Love It or Leave It” types, others from fellow Baltimoreans who just seemed confused by our gesture.

My face turned red, and it was perhaps the most uncomfortable three minutes I’ve spent in a public setting. Far worse, for example, than the hard hats jeering at anti-Vietnam War rallies in the late ’60s, since I felt awful—ashamed, even—for offending people at a nonconfrontational event.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, “God Bless America” is performed during the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, and I’ve yet to see anybody keep his or her seat in protest. New York isn’t exactly Bush Country, so I think it’s a matter of respect demonstrated by the fans. There’s plenty of injustice in the United States, but most people, no matter where they fall in the political spectrum, speak their minds and then go about business. Weinstein, on the other hand, appears so filled with hate for the country that I can’t understand why she doesn’t emigrate to a place where she’d be happier. Such a move would be a smart, and lifestyle-enhancing, way to show her dissent.

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